**This blog was previously posted by Chief Gigs on Forbes! Check out our Forbes | Coaches Council page here!**
In the last three years, the world has experienced its fair share of bad news. On top of that, common struggles like health issues or the passing of a loved one mean your employees and colleagues are no strangers to receiving unfortunate news.
While advice on how to react to these trying times is plentiful, truly supporting those who are suffering is a skill that can be difficult to learn. This is because going through unexpected tribulations can require different perspectives in terms of communication and support.
So how should leaders support others when they experience turbulent times?
If someone shares unfortunate news with you, give them full control of the conversation, both in mode and content.
When sharing news, people may choose to call, text, announce it in an email to their supervisors or make a post on social media. It’s your job as a leader to respect the mode of communication chosen, especially if they ask for privacy. Although it may come from a good place, calling or stopping by forces the person to engage in a way they may not be ready for, which could make the situation more difficult for them. Beyond that, think about the impact of your communication, and refrain from probing questions as they can be overwhelming. When in doubt, make sure your communication provides comfort while respecting what your employee or colleague wants.
There’s often a push and pull with how much someone will share about their personal life. When troubling news is shared, some common responses are “Why didn’t you tell me?” or “I wish you would have told me so I could support you!” Although these are well-meaning responses, they can actually make someone feel like they’re expected to disclose difficulties immediately. This places an extra burden on them to answer these questions without hurting feelings.
Try to understand the cues that the sharer is sending and respond accordingly. Are they saying they need support, or are they just sharing the information because they want to explain a noted decrease in interaction? It’s possible they may even want to celebrate that they overcome the situation after it’s resolved. No matter what they share and when; don’t place unnecessary expectations on how they communicate.
Support looks different for everyone. When first faced with unfortunate events themselves, people may not have the bandwidth or energy to verbalize their needs. On the other hand, there may be an overwhelming amount of support coming from people in their personal lives.
If you want to offer support as a leader, even in a small way, consider the following ideas.
• Give them a gift card to one of their favorite restaurants, a platform like Uber Eats or DoorDash or a grocery store.
• Gift them a subscription to a streaming service or audiobook service to enjoy during their recovery.
• Help them do research, get quotes for needed services or make phone calls.
• If you’ve endured a similar situation, let them know they’re not alone. Hearing messages of comfort from someone who knows what they’re feeling will help your employee or colleague feel seen.
• Be sure to leave your door open as a line of communication. Walks or calls can really help someone get through a tough time.
Just as comfort is different from each person’s perspective, everyone processes in different ways. For example, some people develop a strong need to organize so they can feel grounded. This can bleed over into the workplace, whether it’s their physical office space or how they approach work. Others may prefer to isolate and disengage from small talk or group settings.
It’s important for leaders to remind people that it’s okay to take space and focus on themselves. Recovery in any case takes time, and realizing their capabilities allows them to set boundaries, which leaves more room for healing. If you can, support your employee by rescheduling or canceling any professional obligations if they don’t have the energy or ability to concentrate on these tasks. Don’t press them to engage, but let them know that you’ll be available to reconnect whenever they’re ready.
Supporting others during personal troubles can be difficult. Navigating their preferences and boundaries—which can change—is highly challenging. Communicate and listen to help most during turbulent times. When in doubt, ask yourself, “Am I making life easier for them?” It’s okay if you don’t get it right the first time. What matters most is your employee feeling supported.